From the time of King Pharaoh of Egypt to Queen Sheeba of Ethiopia; from Anwar Sadat to Edward Akufo-Addo of Ghana; from King Chaka (c 1788-1828) founder of the Zulu Empire to Uthman Shehu Danfodio, from El-Kanemi Sheikh Muhammad El-Amin (c 1779 – 1835) of Borno to the founder of the Swazis kingdom King Sobhuza (c 1795 – 1836), that Africa in particular and the black race in general has never lacked great minds who defined their generation. And in so doing they became so special that we have no alternative than to elevate them to the position of African heroes.
If truth be told, the greatest challenge that Africa is facing in this 21st Century is leadership. From Egypt, Ghana, Liberia, Uganda, Cameroon, Ethiopia down to Congo; good leadership is what each and every citizen of every nation of Africa aspires to. And over the years, African sit tight syndrome by her leaders wasn’t helping matter. But, in the mist of all these bad examples, We equally have in abundance those whose activities in the past put Africa in a good light like Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyereye of Tanzania, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana and few others who by putting the peoples interest first carved an inch in the history of Africa alongside the likes of Kwame Nkruma of Ghana (1902-72), King Abu Hassan 1 of Morocco (1836-94), Paul Hazoume of Benin Republic (1890-1980), Richard Abrom Henries of Liberia (1908-80), Leon Mba of Gabon (1902-67) to mention but few.
The leadership challenge was carried over to this generation and it was the desire to encourage good leadership in Africa that made Mo Ibrahim to set up the yearly Mo Ibrahim Leadership Award with a reward of $5m USD. These are great minds Frantz Fanon had in mind when he said, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it”. That’s where the unavoidable mention of Goodluck Jonathan comes in, for here is a leader who discovered the greatest need of Africans today and did not out of the glory that goes with power betray the mission.
The question today should be, in trying to move democracy forward what should Africa learn from Jonathan? In attempt to answer this question the Commonwealth Observer Group recently send him to Tanzania as Head of Commonwealth Tanzanian elections observer. Coming out the elections in Tanzania, in one of his speeches and his experine he thundered,
“I know people would really want to know how we can progress as a continent.
First and foremost, let me commend African countries because our democracies are still very recent. Most African countries gained independence between 1960 and 1965 although Ghana was the first African country South of the Equator or South of the Sahara that gained independence in 1957. But most countries for instance, Nigeria gained independence in 1960 and others 1965. Zimbabwe was the last in 1980.
So you can see that we are very young democracies. At the beginning at independence, governments were not very stable – with military interventions, territorial activities and so on. Now democracy is stabilizing in Africa and at the beginning of everything there must be issues. And if you read about the democracies of many countries, what they passed through, you will see that we’re even moving faster. Of course we have the advantage because you should think about the concept of not rediscovering the wheel.”
The point is that African leaders need to refined leadership in Africa by establishing institutions away from their selves. So that after office they will have a global applause; this will force highly respected organizations and institutions to fall over themselves to recognize and honour them. By only going round the world honouring invitations and delivering speeches on how to make democracy work in Africa or their tenure experience they will make lots of money to run their foundation. The sit tight syndrome African leaders are exhibiting is dehumanizing the people in their selfish quest for power.
Talking about building institutions, it’s important to note that democratic principles are not just defined by conducting election. Building institutions away from the leader and having access information are part and parcel of it. Like under Jonathan for five good years there was no single political detainee in Nigeria under any excuse, even when it was noted that he was the most criticized president in the world, he still allow freedom of expression to flourish. This is how democracies are built.
These are some of the positives African leaders can learn from him.
Achieving this is not suppose to be so difficult once our leaders put self apart be like he pointed out, “we have the advantage because you should think about the concept of not rediscovering the wheel” and continuing in that line of thought after his Tanzania election monitoring he said, “The wheel is already there, so we can now just observe what others do and then modify to suit ourselves. Others discovered the wheel and it is left for us to follow what they do. We cannot go and re-invent the wheel. So that’s what is giving us the advantage. Basically from my experience in government, I think I will share with other governments in the continent and in fact in the country because you did mention of local elections and Nigerian general election.
Election observation has two components. What makes a good election is not what happened on Election Day alone. Most people talk about the election on the voting day. The pre-election activities, election activities and post-election activities give whole concept of election observation. The first thing is have you registered your voters? Make sure that some people have not been disenfranchised. Are you sure 100% of the people who are supposed to vote, who have reached the adult suffrage which is 18 years have been registered? If an election process does not register all the people who are supposed to vote, we have an issue!”
These observations coming from a leader whose main philosophy about power is that the blood of one single citizen is not worth his quest for power. And went on to live by the examples of his advocacy and by so doing refused to be another big embarrassment to Africa, if he had chosen to remain in office by all means. In a polity where in no distance history a leader once thundered that elections are do-or-die affairs, the believe in some circle that President Jonathan chose to build a legacy in Africa is not out of place. As a result, the suggestion that he has taken a noble step like Nelson Mandela is not farfetched. And, in line with his noble step that saved bloodshed in other West African nations like Togo, Ghana, Benin Republic, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Sierra Loan, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Liberia has made some institutions to suggest a Noble Peace Prize nomination.
This is against the background of how the refusal to relinquish power led Ivory Coast to a Civil War that devastated the nation and caused thousands of avoidable deaths. This is exactly where and why the Jonathan lesson for Africa comes handy.
This is coming in a continent where the Prime Minister who has ruled Equatorial Guinea since 1979 is still holding firmly to power, just like that of Angola. In a continent where the president of Zimbabwe has been in power in since 1980, and that of Cameroon since 1982.
One of the most disappointing is that of Uganda who has ruled since 1986.While in the bush as a rebel fighting the government of the day, a BBC reporter came to interview him, he wondered what was wrong with African leaders that they want to die in office. He hid his face in-between his legs in shame for such an attitude but, today, he adjusting their constitution each time his tenure expires.
Do we then talk about Omar Hassan Al-Bashir of Sudan who has been in office since 1989 or Blaise Compare of Burkina Faso who fled after failing to extend their constitution after 27 years in office? Look at President of Rwanda, who came to power in 1994, he is now trying to amend their constitution to remain in power. The same power bug is biting President Pierre Nurunziza who after ruling Burundi for 10 years extended their constitution to contest again. One can count how many lives that has been lost in Burundi to help you appreciate President Jonathan the more.
Since elections are the main bane into all these problem after observing the Tanzanian election President Jonathan rightly suggested, “During their campaigns, are all the parties should be well exposed through the government media? Unless where there are restrictions? And also how do you do your campaigns? Back home here there are certain things we do and we take them for granted. Internationally, they are not right. For example in most of our campaigns, politicians give gifts to people such as matches, biro pens and so on. Internationally these are regarded as inducements to the people. It’s not the best global practice.
So most of our electoral bodies need to come up with guidelines so that political parties and those who do rallies should not go to rally grounds and start distributing items thereby inducing the electorate. Then of course what happens on the Election Day, the election procedure? Well, of course in Tanzania it was quite clear and neat. Then in the post-election process having processed the result we expected any aggrieved person to go to court and get justice.
The post election period and what happens in the courts are very important because if people think there were anomalies in the elections then the courts are the last resort. So the package is total. African countries are moving and I believe they will continue to improve.”
Coming home after the Tanzania experience to meet the Kogi and Bayelsa election, when is opinion was sought he said, ” Kogi elections, I wasn’t there but in Bayelsa elections I was involved. But I was not too pleased because of the security challenges that they couldn’t conclude elections in Southern Ijaw local government. That election was inconclusive and even elections elsewhere what I heard wasn’t too pleasing as well, people were killed, people died in the process.
Why should governorship elections cost the blood of innocent Nigerians? Why should local government elections cost the blood of Nigerians. My take here is that no election is worth the blood of Nigerians. So when I see people with gunshots, even traditional ruler of Peremabiri Community in Southern Ijaw LGA in Bayelsa is in critical condition in hospital with bullets lodged in his brain! That’s definitely not the right thing to do. So in subsequent elections we need to work very hard to make sure that some of these atrocities don’t come up again.
International observers always comment on these issues whenever they observe elections but unfortunately they don’t have the powers to curtain these in a sovereign nationality and to do what they want to do to stop all these.
These few things I raised are critical in declaring elections as credible, free and fair. So the good news is that African countries are really improving everyday. Even in Nigeria right from 1959 elections till date, INEC or whatever name the electoral body bears at a particular time is improving wit every election. There’s indeed good hope and I believe that it will get better especially as all African countries are democratized.
There may be differences in standards – democracy is not just all about elections. Who and how the election is conducted matters so much. The size and the stability of our democracies in Africa are improving and that’s the only way to stimulate economic growth. Investors will not be willing to invest in an unstable economy. Even in ECOWAS when I was there we emphasized that our states must be very economically and politically stable- so that foreign direct investors will be encouraged to come calling. To get this foreign direct investment, first there must be a stable government which in turn will attract these foreign investors. That’s it, so than you.”
These are some of the issues and actions that made some international scholars to suggest that indeed Jonathan is in a class of his own in a continent where a former democratic president once publicly boasted that elections are a do-or-die affair. And, where leaders are living true to that boast.
And then you have a President who came and said my ambition is not worth the blood of any citizen. According to some global circle such a man should be appreciated.
According to some school of thought, if President Jonathan had behaved like some other African leaders there would have been no peace in Nigeria and to a larger extend West Africa today. Courtesy of his selfless leadership democracy has gained a solid foot in one big African family. And looking at it from the point of a continent where millions has been killed in quest for power, this single soul that never allowed his personal ambition to put the lives of 160 million people in jeopardy deserves, to a very reasonable extend, any accolades being poured on him to globally.
It is against this back ground that some international observers has proclaimed President Jonathan not just an asset to Nigeria but, to the entire African continent that is in need of a heroic figure that will step into the giant shoes of Mandela.
Peter Agba Kalu – author, journalist, social critics & human rights activist.